We love Italy. The infatuation began before we even set foot in the land of La Dolce Vita. We’ve traveled to Italy five times. If not for budget and family obligations, we’d move there in a heartbeat. In between visits, we buy cases of Italian wine. We get our fix of Italian food at local restaurants (most of them not as good as even a mediocre Roman trattoria). Mark takes weekly language lessons from Lorella in Tuscany (via Skype). We don’t live there, but we’ve designed our lives so that Italiano is never far from our tongues.
Like much of the Mediterranean, Italy is a coffee culture. In the morning before work the typical Italian runs into the cafe, stands at the bar to knock back a quick cappuccino and perhaps a pastry. I like to take a bit more time with mine, but remember the iron-clad Italian rule: No cappuccino after 11:00 am! Espresso is a crucial part of La dolce vita.
Great ingredients prepared simply, served with wonderful wine. Italian pizza generally boasts a thin, crisp crust and isn’t topped with an excess of ingredients. The pasta is always done beautifully with great sauces. We love to dine the way Italians do—enjoying smaller portions over a long lunch or dinner, with the meal meant to be an experience in itself.
Probably our favorite time of day in Italy is the evening promenade. During this leisurely stroll, Italians enjoy the streets and pause to greet friends. You’ll see families out before or after dinner, with children running ahead to play. Families sit on a bench to chat or watch the parade. Middle-aged and older people don’t ‘dress down’ but always appear with a certain sense of style all their own.
Colorful and beautifully displayed, local provisions are the secret of the great Italian cuisine. Regional cheeses, grass-fed meats, and fresh fish are highlights. As in much of Europe, food shopping is often done on a daily basis, with the family cook picking up dinner ingredients on the way home from work. “Ciao Guiseppi, due banane per favore!”
Art and Architecture
Home of more artistic treasures per square foot than anywhere in the world, Italy overflows with exquisite painting, magnificent sculpture and iconic architecture. Tuscany and Florence specifically acted as the cradle of the renaissance, and you can almost feel the spirits of Michelangelo, Leonardo, Botticelli and their contemporaries. Even today, almost anywhere you look could serve as a guidebook photo.
Photos: ©Mark den Hartog